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It’s time to order seeds

There’s an activity I look forward to every year in the depths of winter — seed shopping for my home garden.

When I’m craving warmer weather and feeling cooped up in my house (especially this year), planning what I’ll grow in my garden and placing my seed order is a wonderful distraction. Seed companies will send you free catalogs to flip through, or you can browse online.

There are so many seed companies to choose from, and shopping from a couple of different sources will help balance your garden with unique, heritage vegetable and fruits and those that are tried and true stalwart growers. I try to buy as many varieties as I can from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (SESE), an excellent choice for Virginian gardeners. Of the 30 farms from which SESE sources seeds, 24 are in Virginia, mid-Atlantic and southeast. This means their seeds are more likely to be well-adapted to our particular climate, growing conditions, pests and diseases that can crop up in our gardens. Head to www.southernexposure.com to learn more.

A quick search for seed companies will introduce you to many options.

Ordering seeds in the winter ensures the companies don’t run out of popular varieties before you secure the seeds you want. Under the right storage conditions, seeds can maintain their viability for years. The trick is keeping seeds at constant temperature and humidity levels, ideally below 50 degrees and 50% humidity, and out of direct sunlight. Most seeds come in paper packets, and storing these inside plastic tote containers or a shoebox in your basement is a great option. I don’t have a basement and have successfully stored seeds in a dark, dry chest that stays around 60 to 70 degrees. Last spring, I discovered some forgotten radish seeds in my shed, which had experienced many temperature fluctuations for at least two years. I planted them anyway and got some radishes harvested, but the seeds’ germination rate was well below what it should have been.

Ordering packets of seeds is an economical way to start your garden. Root vegetables like carrots, beets and turnips, along with beans, lettuce and spinach, are simple crops to grow as you plant seeds directly into the soil. I dream of having a small, backyard greenhouse to start tomatoes, peppers and other crops grown from seedlings, but alas, my southern-facing window sills are my best option for now. I fill egg cartons with potting soil and keep them on a plastic tray to keep the sills dry. As the seedlings grow, I transplant them into larger pots like the ones I keep after buying flowers and plants from nurseries. From those pots I transplant the seedlings into the garden.

I hope garden planning and seed shopping bring you joy this winter. Collaborating with neighbors and friends on orders is also fun. There’s a lot of seeds in each packet, so while you can store the seeds for years, you can also share them.

KATHARINE WILSON is the director Virginia Food Works. She can be reached at info@virginiafoodworks.org.